Making Waves (Part 1)

Antho­ny Brax­ton, Falling River Music (363h), 2004–present.

Cues

If the first weeks of the Trump pres­i­den­cy shocked much of the coun­try and world, it was a shock of the expect­ed and promised. To be sure, there have been gen­uine moments of sur­prise. No mat­ter how pre­pared any­one might have been, it bog­gles the mind to learn how the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States made a “light-heart­ed” threat to the Pres­i­dent of Mex­i­co that he might invade their coun­try to deal with some “bad hom­bres” or that he seems unaware who Fred­er­ick Dou­glass was, let alone that Dou­glass died more than a cen­tu­ry ago. Even after a year and a half of news cycles dom­i­nat­ed by Trump’s now-famil­iar com­pound of mono­ma­nia, cor­ro­sive self-doubt, and unabashed white nation­al­ism, it was still star­tling to watch him move seam­less­ly from advo­cat­ing tor­ture to petu­lant­ly insist­ing yet again that his inau­gu­ra­tion crowds were the biggest in his­to­ry, or to see how casu­al­ly he sug­gest­ed destroy­ing the career of a state sen­a­tor who intro­duced a mod­er­ate bill block­ing asset seizure pri­or to con­vic­tion.

But amongst all the gasps over “alter­na­tive facts” and fic­ti­tious mas­sacres, it should be clear that none of the exec­u­tive orders, appoint­ments, pro­posed pol­i­cy, or pub­lic state­ments were in any real sense a sur­prise. They have enact­ed almost to the let­ter the pledges made through­out the cam­paign, from the Mus­lim ban, Mex­i­can bor­der wall, ampli­fied depor­ta­tions, and Dako­ta Access Pipeline to the imme­di­ate (if large­ly sym­bol­ic) mea­sures at defund­ing the Afford­able Care Act and the selec­tion of a Supre­me Court nom­i­nee off a list made pub­lic months ago. This spec­ta­cle of exec­u­tive author­i­ty and attempt­ed con­sol­i­da­tion of pow­er man­i­fests a breath­tak­ing veloc­i­ty and ide­o­log­i­cal lit­er­al­ism with no prece­dence in Amer­i­can elec­toral pol­i­tics, but it is nev­er­the­less pre­cise­ly what was promised again and again over the past year to any­one who both­ered to lis­ten.

How­ev­er, a focus on the break­neck haste, blunt­ness, and rel­a­tive inef­fi­ca­cy with which the admin­is­tra­tion has been try­ing to check off the bul­let-points of their agen­da shouldn’t obscure what else marked those very first weeks: an equal­ly unprece­dent­ed speed and scale of pop­u­lar mobi­liza­tion again­st all that the admin­is­tra­tion rep­re­sents. Draw­ing a bal­ance sheet of this is a dif­fi­cult task, above all for the sheer range of tac­tics and ten­den­cies involved, but a cur­so­ry list goes far beyond the his­toric crowds at the Women’s March in Wash­ing­ton and across the coun­try and world, from metrop­o­les to tiny Cana­di­an fish­ing vil­lages. It would also include: 

  • the block­ade of air­ports around the coun­try by tens of thou­sands, whose imme­di­ate respon­se and pres­sure man­aged what fed­er­al court orders could not, free­ing those detained by the sud­den impo­si­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly ille­git­i­mate exec­u­tive order
  • a taxi strike in New York City (by the New York Taxi Work­ers Alliance, who rep­re­sents rough­ly 18,000 dri­vers) to sup­port those block­ades and demon­stra­tions
  • a wide­spread boy­cott of Uber in the wake of their attempt­ed strike-break­ing, which, com­bined with protests at their head­quar­ters, led first to the ner­vous cre­ation of a $3-mil­lion fund in case their own dri­vers faced detain­ment and then to their CEO step­ping down from Trump’s eco­nom­ic advi­so­ry coun­cil (and, more recent­ly, from his posi­tion at the com­pa­ny itself)
  • the Vaughn pris­on upris­ing, where inmates of Delaware’s largest pris­on seized hostages and con­trol of one of the jail’s build­ings, call­ing reporters to “explain the rea­sons for doing what we’re doing. Don­ald Trump. Every­thing that he did. We know that the insti­tu­tion is going to change for the worse.”
  • the ongo­ing for­ma­tion of local self-defense groups ready to con­front not only racial­ized, Islam­o­pho­bic, and gen­dered vio­lence and harass­ment but also ICE raids, espe­cial­ly as the ongo­ing depor­ta­tions that gath­ered speed in the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion has tak­en a new­ly vis­i­ble and more explic­it­ly mar­tial char­ac­ter aimed to ter­ror­ize com­mu­ni­ties on the streets, at their jobs, and in their homes 
  • mil­i­tant antifas­cist resis­tance in the days before the inau­gu­ra­tion and every day since, includ­ing suc­cess­ful­ly halt­ing Milo Yiannopoulos’s cam­pus talks at Davis and Berke­ley (dur­ing which undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents would have been “outed”/doxxed to the cheers of the crowd)
  • fed­er­al work­ers qui­et­ly push­ing back, both through a steady stream of leaks1 and through strate­gies such as that of work­ers in the Jus­tice Depart­ment, who plan to essen­tial­ly sab­o­tage their new direc­tives by work­ing slow and lodg­ing com­plaints with the inspec­tor general’s office
  • the New York bode­ga strike, where­in rough­ly 1,000 Yemeni-owned bode­gas closed for 8 hours in protest of the immi­gra­tion ban and pro­duced one of the most dis­tinct­ly pro-Amer­i­can chal­lenges to Trump’s attempt­ed autoc­ra­cy. (In the words of Nabil Nash­er, a deli own­er: “Trump, he wants to be like some dic­ta­tor in the Mid­dle East. It’s not right, it’s the Unit­ed States! What I hear from him is like what I hear from the pres­i­dent of Yemen for 33 years!”)
  • enough pub­lic pres­sure through phone calls and online furor to force the with­drawal of a GOP-backed bill (pushed by none oth­er than Jason Chaf­fetz) to sell off 3.3 mil­lion acres of nation­al land
  • echoes of the 2006 “day with­out an immi­grant” gen­er­al strike in Mil­wau­kee and twelve oth­er Wis­con­sin cities, where Voces de la Fron­tera Work­ers’ Cen­ter led protests across the state. Three days lat­er, immi­grant “com­mu­ni­ty gen­er­al strikes” erupt­ed in dozens of cities across the Unit­ed States, includ­ing the unlike­ly can­di­dates of Char­lot­te, Detroit, New Orleans, Philadel­phia, and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., while the more estab­lished seats of migrant orga­niz­ing in Chicago, New York, and the South­west have seen stu­dent walk­outs, dis­rupt­ed ICE raids, and the con­sti­tu­tion of com­mu­ni­ty defense or rapid respon­se net­works
  • mil­i­tant con­tin­gents of the inter­na­tion­al women’s strike (or gen­der strike, as it was called in Oak­land) across the Unit­ed States, which, in addi­tion to clog­ging the arter­ies of major cities and forc­ing the clo­sure of at least two school dis­tricts, main­lined a rad­i­cal fem­i­nism and launched groups ded­i­cat­ed to orga­niz­ing fem­i­nized labor 
  • glob­al sol­i­dar­i­ty demon­stra­tions; numer­ous dai­ly march­es, meet­ings, self-defense and cryp­tog­ra­phy work­shops, let­ter-writ­ing cam­paigns, van­dal­ism, packed town halls, and call­ing of Sen­a­tors through­out the coun­try
  • last but cer­tain­ly not least, punch­ing the words right out of a Nazi’s mouth, result­ing in our moment’s great­est work of unplanned pro­pa­gan­da, a meme that can nev­er be seen enough 

In a bleak win­ter, this wave of het­ero­ge­neous dis­sent has been gen­uine­ly inspir­ing. With the excep­tion of the Women’s March, which was planned and care­ful­ly orches­trat­ed far in advance, most of the­se were actions that mobi­lized peo­ple at incred­i­ble speed, gath­er­ing thou­sands with at times only hours notice or tak­ing place with­out any cen­tral gath­er­ing. To call them spon­ta­neous, how­ev­er, would obscure the way the­se rapid artic­u­la­tions of dis­con­tent and refusal, most explic­it­ly at the treat­ment of Mus­lim and immi­grant pop­u­la­tions, did not hap­pen in a vac­u­um. Instead, they have com­bined self-orga­ni­za­tion and imme­di­ate respon­se with the coor­di­nat­ing efforts of long-stand­ing groups that have been work­ing tire­less­ly for immi­grant rights, pris­on abo­li­tion, liv­ing wages, queer lib­er­a­tion, fair hous­ing prac­tice, and access to repro­duc­tive and health care for years before Trump lum­bered into par­ty pol­i­tics. More­over, much of this fierce respon­se to the exec­u­tive orders has large­ly eschewed the con­ven­tion­al play­books for large sanc­tioned pub­lic demon­stra­tions. It has opened instead to tac­tics, like the bode­ga strike and the air­port block­ades, that draw no easy divide between pub­licly-announced protest, dai­ly life, and the cir­cu­la­tion of cap­i­tal. Or that, like the ongo­ing “open-mouthed” sab­o­tage2 by fed­er­al employ­ees, erodes author­i­ty from with­in with­out ever step­ping into the open, pro­vok­ing an anx­ious uncer­tain­ty on the part of those try­ing to man­age a very leaky ship of state.

Part of View­point’s com­mit­ment has always been to tell the his­to­ry of the present through a his­to­ry of strug­gles, tak­ing our bear­ings from the con­stel­la­tion of past and cur­rent rev­o­lu­tion­ary activ­i­ty. In this regard, the­se past weeks point in strik­ing ways to the neces­si­ty of a tru­ly het­ero­ge­neous range of tac­tics in the com­ing years, sug­gest­ing that one of the favorite pas­times of the left – squab­bling over which kind of action is unique­ly allowed to count, whether it be march­es or riots, phone bank­ing or the black bloc, as if any of the­se were mutu­al­ly exclu­sive – deserves to be well and tru­ly scrapped. Yet we’ve been equal­ly com­mit­ted to try­ing to under­stand, as clear­ly as pos­si­ble, the com­po­si­tion and strengths of what arrays itself again­st this range of activ­i­ty, from the blunt fact of mil­i­ta­rized polic­ing to all the vari­eties of lib­er­al his­tor­i­cal amne­sia eager to write nar­ra­tives of revolt purged of any resis­tance deemed “vio­lent” (but with the gall to cur­rent­ly des­ig­nate them­selves “The Resis­tance”). In this regard, while we take our cues from the way that indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions have already shaped the ter­rain on which they are fight­ing, we need to rec­og­nize that at least so far, the time­line and scope of the strug­gles has been almost entire­ly set by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion itself, pro­duc­ing one famil­iar shock after anoth­er towards which atten­tion and ener­gy quick­ly shift. If we can dis­cern the nascent form of a unit­ed front tak­ing shape between the­se dis­parate instances, it is at this point an almost entire­ly reac­tive one, fol­low­ing the cues, spurs, and con­tours of the very ten­den­cy we hope to under­mine.

The dan­gers of let­ting our moves be dic­tat­ed by a would-be dic­ta­tor are imme­di­ate­ly evi­dent, in at least two ways. First, it exac­er­bates a ten­den­cy to search for sal­va­tion amongst those who are equal­ly com­mit­ted to an ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive agen­da but are mere­ly less explic­it­ly fascis­tic about the paths to achiev­ing it. This ten­den­cy has already become whol­ly vis­i­ble in the form of a near­ly mes­sian­ic hope of those “good” Repub­li­cans who will choose to save their midterm-elec­tion necks by opt­ing for impeach­ment or of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty stan­dard-bear­ers who will, again­st all his­tor­i­cal evi­dence, rad­i­cal­ize and lead the charge again­st a Trumpian path to nation­al dis­as­ter or nuclear-armed con­flict. But as Nan­cy Pelosi’s frank admis­sion that, “we’re cap­i­tal­ist and that’s just the way it is” indi­cates, to hang our hopes on this unlike­ly res­cue or to expect that even its mod­est achieve­ment would in any way align with a strug­gle again­st the per­pe­tu­ity of cap­i­tal is wish­ful think­ing. And at this moment, such think­ing is per­haps the very thing we need less than any­thing else.

The oth­er dan­ger of let­ting our actions be artic­u­lat­ed, timed, and shaped by the orders passed down from on high is that even if this remark­able wave of orga­niz­ing per­sists and mutates, as it seems like­ly to do so, we run the risk of nar­row­ing the focus of this anger and com­mit­ment to only the per­mu­ta­tions of elec­toral pol­i­tics. In so doing, we would not only reduce our scope to a bale­ful play of com­pro­mise and appease­ment, one whose vacu­ity has been fur­ther con­firmed by the DNC’s deci­sion to pass over even the mod­er­ate­ly pro­gres­sive Kei­th Ellison as chair in favor of Tom Perez. We would also divert focus and ener­gy away from the two fronts on which rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion has to take place simul­ta­ne­ous­ly if it is to mean any­thing at all. First, again­st the array of vio­lent­ly rein­forced social struc­tures and dai­ly cycles of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion, whose dis­rup­tion alone would be able to even slight­ly force the hands of elect­ed offi­cials. Sec­ond, towards a mode that could become indif­fer­ent to con­vinc­ing such offi­cials one way or the oth­er, instead build­ing the coher­ent strat­e­gy and infra­struc­ture of sup­port, self-cri­tique, coor­di­na­tion, and flex­i­bil­i­ty need­ed to sus­tain the orga­ni­za­tion of a strug­gle whose timescale is not just the com­ing days and weeks but years and decades, a cen­tu­ry of chal­lenge and revolt, a mil­len­ni­um of life beyond cap­i­tal in what­ev­er remains of this world. With such high stakes, it is imper­a­tive that we take the ini­tia­tive, which means for­mu­lat­ing a clear plan for nav­i­gat­ing the chaotic waters that lie ahead.

Blockages

In the fall, we argued that the rem­nants of the Bernie Sanders move­ment in the Unit­ed States were coa­lesc­ing into a specif­i­cal­ly social demo­c­ra­t­ic cur­rent, and we exam­ined this in rela­tion to an alter­na­tive pos­si­bil­i­ty: that the Sanders move­ment might become a site of recruit­ment to the rev­o­lu­tion­ary left. How­ev­er, all pre­vi­ous ques­tions about the artic­u­la­tion of this as a move­ment deserve to be con­sid­ered anew in the con­text of both the Trump pres­i­den­cy and the grow­ing and var­ied resis­tance to it. For instance, the ini­tial respons­es to the start of Trump’s term (and the marked swell of new mem­bers in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca and oth­er social­ist orga­ni­za­tions) do speak to the the­sis of a social demo­c­ra­t­ic cur­rent. Yet they also illus­trate the point that a cur­rent, which we had pre­vi­ous­ly framed as a “weak form of artic­u­la­tion… with min­i­mal orga­ni­za­tion­al cohe­sion and direc­tion,” also exists in the dynam­ic con­text of dis­tinct move­ments, sects, orga­ni­za­tions, blocs, and oth­er forms of com­po­si­tion – and that dynam­ic con­text has the dis­tinct advan­tage of both sur­prise and flex­i­bil­i­ty, sug­gest­ing lit­tle gained by the par­tic­u­lar adher­ence to social demo­c­ra­t­ic pro­grams and insti­tu­tion­al struc­tures.

In this con­text, any pro­gram­mat­ic pro­pos­al – that is, any pro­pos­al that advo­cates chan­nel­ing that dif­fuse ener­gy and dis­sent into the frame of a sin­gle orga­ni­za­tion and pro­gram, how­ev­er flex­i­ble – demands care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion and scruti­ny. One such pro­pos­al, Seth Ackerman’s “A Blue­print for a New Par­ty,” pub­lished in ear­ly Novem­ber, raised some essen­tial ques­tions: How can the left orga­nize, in a last­ing and focused way, with­in the anti-Trump milieu? Can social demo­c­ra­t­ic raw mate­ri­als, forged in part dur­ing the Sanders pri­ma­ry run and now embold­ened by the gen­er­al con­sen­sus that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has both failed and proven itself inca­pable of rec­og­niz­ing that fail­ure, be assem­bled into a new tool of the work­ing class? In this regard, Ackerman’s arti­cle and the inter­est it gen­er­at­ed might serve as a start­ing point for a dis­cus­sion with­in, but also beyond, the social demo­c­ra­t­ic cur­rent, because with­in the defined para­me­ters of an elec­toral par­ty, his blue­print is prob­a­bly the most com­pre­hen­sive and con­crete recent attempt to address the obsta­cles for third par­ty activists.3 To speak direct­ly to strat­e­gy and orga­ni­za­tion is a much more dif­fi­cult task than sim­ply issu­ing a call for such things, a symp­to­matic hall­mark of many on the left – our­selves includ­ed. Ackerman’s blue­print is thus a real con­tri­bu­tion for sim­ply hav­ing broached the kind of strate­gic ques­tions that are all too easy to avoid. Yet we engage with it here from the stand­point that social democ­ra­cy is hard­ly the only option for the left, and that both the his­tor­i­cal mod­el asso­ci­at­ed with that name and its fun­da­men­tal sup­po­si­tions must also be sub­ject to crit­i­cism.

For a dis­il­lu­sioned left-lib­er­al milieu that emerged from the pri­maries and the elec­tion, Ackerman’s pro­pos­al addressed core anx­i­eties. By pre­sent­ing the mod­el of an elec­toral par­ty for which the bal­lot line is sec­ondary to local con­sid­er­a­tions and to the party’s inter­nal account­abil­i­ty, Ack­er­man offers a solu­tion to a com­mon con­cern lodged again­st any par­ty-build­ing attempts in the Unit­ed States, the pos­si­ble spoil­er effect, and like­wise to the more gen­er­al ques­tion of the left’s rela­tion to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. The par­ty, accord­ing to Ack­er­man, will be built on prin­ci­ples and the will of its mem­ber­ship – if it makes sense to run again­st Democ­rats, given con­straints on third par­ties, so be it. If not, he leaves open the pos­si­bil­i­ty that a par­ty would, fol­low­ing Sanders’ lead, run a can­di­date in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry. Ackerman’s mod­el includes a detailed out­line of how such a par­ty could insti­tu­tion­al­ly and finan­cial­ly sus­tain itself given cur­rent U.S. elec­toral reg­u­la­tions, which have been designed pre­cise­ly to pre­vent any third par­ty from pos­ing a seri­ous elec­toral threat. 

Of course, some of the­se con­crete sug­ges­tions are debat­able or incom­plete, as Ack­er­man him­self often acknowl­edges. A blue­print is clear­ly meant only to serve as the begin­ning of a dis­cus­sion, and it does that admirably. How­ev­er, such gaps in vision can be indi­ca­tions of struc­tural lim­its and so need to be exam­ined more close­ly to detect their fault­li­nes.

First of all, the new par­ty is sup­posed to have a dis­tinct rela­tion between par­ty lead­ers or elect­ed offi­cials and the par­ty base. Ack­er­man writes that “in a gen­uine­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty, the organization’s mem­ber­ship, pro­gram, and lead­er­ship are bound togeth­er tight­ly by a pow­er­ful, mutu­al­ly rein­forc­ing con­nec­tion.” This is not, how­ev­er, the insti­tu­tion­al form that the U.S. elec­toral sys­tem cul­ti­vates. While a gen­er­al call for local par­ty com­mit­tees and bind­ing pro­grams is appeal­ing enough, it is not at all clear that this is suf­fi­cient for achiev­ing account­abil­i­ty. While greater par­tic­i­pa­tion would pre­sum­ably per­mit local chap­ters to make endorse­ment deci­sions, or not, based on lead­ers’ adher­ence to a pro­gram, we still lack actu­al mech­a­nisms for the par­ty base’s con­trol over its rep­re­sen­ta­tives. If elect­ed lead­ers decide sim­ply to aban­don the par­ty and become Democ­rats, they will effec­tive­ly have used the new par­ty as launch­ing pad for their polit­i­cal careers, hav­ing wast­ed its resources to bol­ster the ten­den­cy again­st which it works from the start. 

Sec­ond, Ack­er­man notes that, as it stands, the focus on procur­ing bal­lot lines for third par­ty can­di­dates ends up mir­ing those par­ties in admin­is­tra­tive and bureau­crat­ic work – col­lect­ing sig­na­tures, fil­ing law­suits, fil­ing paper­work, etc. While this is no doubt true, the con­struc­tion of a com­plex finan­cial archi­tec­ture – not to men­tion actu­al fundrais­ing work – described in Ackerman’s own blue­print appears to be just as tax­ing for a third par­ty on his mod­el. And while the con­sid­er­a­tion of local con­di­tions might allow local par­ty cells to take the path of least resis­tance for get­ting their can­di­dates on the bal­lot, this does not obvi­ate sig­na­ture-col­lec­tion and oth­er admin­is­tra­tive work which, as those who spend their days knock­ing on doors are painful­ly aware, can eas­i­ly bog down an orga­ni­za­tion with­out access to a large pro­fes­sion­al staff. 

Final­ly, if the third par­ty were to achieve elec­toral suc­cess, Ack­er­man him­self shows how easy it is for the major par­ties to leg­is­late new obsta­cles into exis­tence, or in the case of Sanders, to turn the entire par­ty appa­ra­tus again­st new entrants, both out in the open and behind the sce­nes. In oth­er words, the pro­pos­al for a work­ing-class par­ty orga­ni­za­tion ori­ent­ed toward com­pe­ti­tion with the major cap­i­tal­ist par­ties on their own turf runs into prac­ti­cal block­ages at every step.

Blueprints

No blue­print, archi­tec­tural or polit­i­cal, can ful­ly antic­i­pate or account for the dif­fi­cul­ties of the actu­al process of con­struc­tion.4 But the rel­e­vant ques­tion is whether the con­crete obsta­cles a plan would face are inci­den­tal to the messy com­pli­ca­tions that arise when try­ing to real­ize its aims, or if they are symp­to­matic of a struc­tural prob­lem lurk­ing there from the start. In order to deter­mine this for pro­pos­als such as Ackerman’s, we have to zoom out from the tenets of the plan itself to detect what his­tor­i­cal mod­els and prece­dents are implic­it in its approach, and to try to under­stand what has fun­da­men­tal­ly shift­ed or dis­solved since those pri­or moments and forms it derives itself from. In this case, the frame­work in which Ack­er­man is oper­at­ing is a speci­fic respon­se to the chal­lenges posed in build­ing a labor par­ty, based on rel­a­tive­ly suc­cess­ful past mod­els in which the work­ing class was orga­ni­za­tion­al­ly ascen­dant. Imme­di­ate­ly, that prob­lem of his­tor­i­cal dis­tance sur­faces. Writ­ing of the attempt to build a U.S. Labor Par­ty dur­ing the 1980s and ‘90s, Ack­er­man notes that, accord­ing to one of its orga­niz­ers, a key chal­lenge was the wan­ing pow­er of the exist­ing union move­ment. After decades of the fur­ther neolib­er­al ero­sion of work­ing-class orga­ni­za­tion, this chal­lenge has become all the more for­mi­da­ble.

The prob­lem, how­ev­er, is not only the real con­se­quences of that ero­sion: it is also the under­stand­ing of class and his­tor­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion that under­girds it, along with the very sense of how a “blue­print” would relate to this in the first place. If we want to speak of a work­ing-class par­ty, we need to begin from the work­ing class as it exists, not as we would like it to be.5 Yet what con­sid­ers itself a blue­print will not and can­not con­cern itself pri­mar­i­ly with a con­crete analy­sis of class com­po­si­tion. Its struc­ture and pur­pose must be tak­en as a given, for­mu­lat­ed with def­er­ence to the archi­tec­ture of the cap­i­tal­ist state – and the par­ties which com­pete on that ter­rain – rather than from the rela­tion­ships between class­es and fac­tions which must char­ac­ter­ize any dis­cus­sion of orga­ni­za­tion. In short, the orga­ni­za­tion­al ques­tions it can address are only those posed from above, while those raised from below go unac­knowl­edged.6 Lack­ing a dis­cus­sion of just who is to be orga­nized, as well as the rela­tion­ship between the sug­gest­ed orga­ni­za­tion and already exist­ing move­ments and plat­forms, Ackerman’s pro­pos­al takes it as a given that the cen­tral goal of orga­ni­za­tion is elec­toral con­tes­ta­tion, and that the body of a par­ty com­pris­es indi­vid­u­al­ly moti­vat­ed pro­gres­sives and left­ists. In oth­er words, it holds onto the mythic assump­tion of U.S. elec­toral pol­i­tics, which is that pol­i­tics is the strate­gic agglom­er­a­tion of a bloc through the per­son­al pref­er­ences of cit­i­zens as abstract indi­vid­u­als.

The need to actu­al­ly inves­ti­gate class com­po­si­tion would pre­clude any such easy tax­on­o­my of forms of strug­gle. In anoth­er Jacobin essay that shares many of the core assump­tions of Ackerman’s text, Sam Gind­in right­ly argues that “social move­ment union­ism” is no panacea for the left, but his read­ing of the polit­i­cal land­scape through the strict cat­e­gories of union, social move­ment, and par­ty is rigid and schemat­ic. While con­clud­ing that social move­ment union­ism can work in the con­text of an “insti­tu­tion [that] would work to bring out the best in unions and move­ments alike,” the easy reduc­tion of strug­gle into the­se two forms obscures dif­fi­cult ques­tions that might gen­er­ate a more com­plex image of the orga­ni­za­tion­al ter­rain. Where do class-based move­ments end and “social” move­ments begin? Can we assume that work­place orga­ni­za­tions will by neces­si­ty super­sede the ones gen­er­at­ed through strug­gles around social repro­duc­tion? And what kinds of dis­tinc­tions can we draw between the dif­fer­ent kind of groups that often get thrown togeth­er under the head­ing of “social move­ments”? As we have argued else­where, the his­tor­i­cal encoun­ter of labor unions with social­ist pol­i­tics was con­tin­gent and his­tor­i­cal­ly speci­fic, and the broad­er his­to­ry of the work­ers’ move­ment has gen­er­al­ly includ­ed many move­ments linked to non-work­place con­cerns of the pro­le­tari­at. Thus if the ques­tion of par­ty orga­ni­za­tion is restrict­ed to the exist­ing insti­tu­tions of orga­nized labor as a polit­i­cal party’s point of depar­ture, this means that a broad range of poten­tial work­ing class self-activ­i­ty will be exclud­ed – since the work­ing class has been con­flat­ed with unions, rather than organ­i­cal­ly bound to them.7

The abortive his­to­ry of Amer­i­can laborism would sug­gest this mis­take is nei­ther only Ackerman’s, nor that of a left in a low ebb of strug­gle at the end of the 20th cen­tu­ry. It plagued the U.S. work­ing class even in its most sto­ried years, when the shop-floor mil­i­tan­cy of 1933-1946 reached unprece­dent­ed heights and cat­alyzed rich exper­i­ments in third par­ty orga­ni­za­tion. In the hot sum­mers of 1936 and 1937, the pro­le­tari­at of this coun­try “launched a sus­tained offen­sive that was quite unequalled in Amer­i­can his­to­ry for its tac­ti­cal cre­ativ­i­ty as well as its demon­stra­tion of the pow­er of the col­lec­tive work­er in mod­ern indus­try.”8 The­se rolling strike waves unit­ed mul­tira­cial work­forces, both native- and for­eign-born, com­posed of vary­ing lev­els of skill; in the spring of ‘37 alone, 400,000 work­ers exe­cut­ed 477 sit­downs. But the self-activ­i­ty of the class rarely brought the CIO strik­er to the bal­lot box, despite a sequence of well fund­ed and orga­nized labor ini­tia­tives to break with or realign the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. To their dis­ap­point­ment, the growth of trade unions did not cor­re­late to the inde­pen­dent elec­toral activ­i­ty of the “CIO voter,” in the way that the Euro­pean work­ers’ move­ments con­cur­rent­ly advanced work­place and par­ty orga­ni­za­tion. As Mike Davis explains in his indis­pens­able Pris­on­ers of the Amer­i­can Dream, this project

failed because it mis­un­der­stood the nature of the bonds that attached the Euro­pean work­ing-class voter to his par­ty. It is not, after all, mere­ly a feli­ci­fic cal­cu­lus of self-inter­est that trans­lates mem­ber­ship in a labor move­ment into a pro­found, hered­i­tary com­mit­ment. Even the most ane­mic labor or social demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty in West­ern Europe har­vests the work­ing class’s deep cul­tur­al self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with its insti­tu­tions.9

But the episod­ic flare-ups in Flint or Ford fac­to­ries were nev­er accom­pa­nied by a dense orga­ni­za­tion­al ecol­o­gy exhib­it­ed by Euro­pean social­ist par­ties in the Ruhr Val­ley or beneath the smog­gy smoke­stacks of Berlin. Instead of a wide range of pro­le­tar­i­an insti­tu­tions all across the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion, rang­ing from abor­tion clin­ics and shop­pers co-ops to cul­tur­al asso­ci­a­tions, the Amer­i­can work­ing class fell into the dis­uni­ty of frag­ment­ed social iden­ti­ties, hailed by more durable reli­gious ties or com­mit­ments to com­pet­ing par­ty machiner­ies. If the CIO could sus­pend cleav­ages across race and eth­nic lines at the work­place, past the fac­to­ry gates, there was still lit­tle of a unit­ed work­ing-class coun­ter­cul­ture to be found. The prob­lem of the mere­ly “pro­gres­sive” pro­gram for the work­ing class was that it pre­sumed such a sub­ject as some­thing that already exist­ed and was already a known polit­i­cal force, rather than an agent to be con­sti­tut­ed.10

Espe­cial­ly given such his­to­ries, we would argue that for those who look toward rev­o­lu­tion, par­ties do not pri­mar­i­ly exist to com­pete in elec­tions. If they do run can­di­dates, that is a sec­ondary func­tion. This is because the cap­i­tal­ist state is not a neu­tral appa­ra­tus. We can­not leg­is­late social­ism. Win­ning elec­tions can poten­tial­ly accom­plish some desir­able ends: we may secure some basic improve­ments in our lives, we may man­age to alter the ter­rain of strug­gle in our favor, and we may height­en con­tra­dic­tions and ten­sions with­in the rul­ing bloc. But if run­ning for office can accom­plish speci­fic tac­ti­cal aims under cer­tain cir­cum­stances, we need to be com­plete­ly sober about the lim­its of action with­in the state, always fram­ing the­se goals in terms of a larg­er strate­gic and, for us, rev­o­lu­tion­ary ori­en­ta­tion.

For such an ori­en­ta­tion, one of the pri­ma­ry func­tions of a par­ty is to artic­u­late dis­tinct social forces into a uni­ty, because uni­ty can­not be pre­sup­posed or tak­en as the auto­mat­ic recog­ni­tion of inter­ests in com­mon. It must be con­struct­ed, and the par­ty his­tor­i­cal­ly names a pri­ma­ry form with­in which peo­ple col­lec­tive­ly work through this process of artic­u­la­tion, serv­ing as a bind­ing ele­ment that holds the­se dis­parate forces togeth­er. For Ack­er­man, how­ev­er, the par­ty does not play this func­tion, not even sec­on­dar­i­ly. He is speak­ing to an audi­ence that is already pre­sumed to exist at some lev­el of uni­ty, even if this uni­ty appears to be lit­tle more than that of like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als. So if this form of uni­ty can serve con­junc­tural needs (as the Sanders cam­paign may have done), it is nonethe­less a nec­es­sar­i­ly lim­it­ed inter­ven­tion which demands sup­ple­men­tary work if it is to be turned toward a longer project of rev­o­lu­tion.

Still, aside from the speci­fic prob­lems of Ackerman’s blue­print, there is a risk that lurks behind any con­tem­po­rary call for the revival of a par­ty: that it will reduce the live ques­tion of orga­ni­za­tion into the goal of mere inte­gra­tion into the state appa­ra­tus. For us, the artic­u­lat­ing func­tion of the par­ty is pri­ma­ry, and any par­lia­men­tary activ­i­ty is a tac­tic. To fetishize the tac­tic alone, as such calls do, means leav­ing aside any real con­fronta­tion with the ques­tion of the poten­tial­ly larg­er pur­pose of even an elec­toral­ly-dri­ven par­ty of the left. Does this par­ty seek to get elect­ed and imple­ment ambi­tious pol­i­cy reforms? Or does it want to get bet­ter com­pro­mis­es with the exist­ing par­ties? And if it does cham­pi­on seri­ous reforms, are those ends in them­selves? In short, do we have a blue­print for capit­u­la­tion, for reform, or for rev­o­lu­tion?

Limits

When we pull back from the­se attempts to lay out a sin­gle, coher­ent orga­ni­za­tion­al path into a social demo­c­ra­t­ic future, we find a cur­rent con­junc­ture where things are far messier, if not often gen­uine­ly weird. Ene­mies find them­selves tem­porar­i­ly shar­ing a puta­tive­ly com­mon cause, as the old estab­lish­ment has entered into an unholy and vague alliance with the resis­tance move­ments to exor­cise Trump­ism, form­ing a dif­fuse bloc that, tak­en in full, would run the gamut from CNN and the Koch broth­ers to CIA and State Depart­ment staffers, Nation­al Park employ­ees, anar­chists, and the Sanders crowd. As the sit­u­a­tion feels increas­ing­ly intol­er­a­ble, albeit for whol­ly dif­fer­ent rea­sons and lev­els of per­son­al risk for all those involved, many are already lay­ing claim to being a part, if not the nom­i­nal lead­ers, of the move­ment that will abol­ish this par­tic­u­lar state of things. This, inci­den­tal­ly, was also Marx and Engels’ def­i­n­i­tion of com­mu­nism: “not a state of affairs which is to be estab­lished, an ide­al to which real­i­ty [will] have to adjust itself,” but ”the real move­ment which abol­ish­es the present state of things.” But loose homol­o­gy aside, it is obvi­ous that this broad coali­tion of anti-Trump resis­tance is not in any sense a com­mu­nist move­ment, a dis­tinc­tion that becomes all the more evi­dent when we look at the­se very dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions of the present state of things, of what is so wrong about it, and of just what is in need of abo­li­tion.

For lib­er­als and many of those involved in state appa­ra­tus­es, the prob­lem is rather super­fi­cial: the elec­torate made the wrong choice in elect­ing Trump. Thus, the lib­er­al present is a short one, reach­ing back to ear­ly Novem­ber or at most to the antics of James Comey and Rus­sian hack­ers ear­lier in 2016. When it does extend fur­ther back, it relies upon a famil­iar set of watch­words and con­cep­tions, fix­at­ed on the une­d­u­cat­ed, the rural, the dein­dus­tri­al­ized, the evan­gel­i­cal, and on from there, touch­ing occa­sion­al­ly on gen­uine dynam­ics – like the role of a dis­ag­gre­gat­ed white iden­ti­ty that feels itself under threat of era­sure – but unable to grasp the his­tor­i­cal roots that give such dynam­ics such ongo­ing force. Social democ­rats and com­mu­nists, con­verse­ly, affirm their oppo­si­tion not just to Trump, but to the world that made Trump pos­si­ble, if not almost inevitable, as a fascis­tic respon­se to an over­all cri­sis – a cri­sis of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, nation­al imag­i­nar­ies, and faith in rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al gov­er­nance – in order to man­age the appar­ent chaos. 

Yet here a dif­fer­ence emerges, in the scale of his­tor­i­cal time. Social democ­rats go back to the decline of the New Deal con­sen­sus and the emer­gence of neolib­er­al hege­mony in the 1970s. The com­mu­nist analy­sis of the cur­rent con­junc­ture is deep­er. It doesn’t stop with the elec­tion of Trump or the emer­gence of neolib­er­al­ism but instead asks why Euro­pean social democ­ra­cy and the Amer­i­can New Deal did not in them­selves block the emer­gence of strong nativist, chau­vin­ist, xeno­pho­bic and author­i­tar­i­an forces.

A com­par­ison with Euro­pean his­to­ry is per­haps instruc­tive here, because in that con­text, social democ­ra­cy – vic­to­ri­ous through much of the 20th cen­tu­ry – pro­duced many state lead­ers with more rad­i­cal pro­grams than Bernie Sanders. Yet social democ­ra­cy has nev­er erad­i­cat­ed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of xeno­pho­bic right-wing pop­ulists ris­ing to promi­nence. In France, the rise of the far-right Front Nation­al hap­pened at the time of its most rad­i­cal social­ist pres­i­dent, Fran­cois Mit­ter­rand, in the 1980s. In Den­mark, the poster-child of social democ­ra­cy, the Dan­ish People’s Par­ty have become the king­mak­ers of sev­er­al coali­tion gov­ern­ments, push­ing social democ­ra­cy to sup­port a law empow­er­ing police to strip refugees of their valu­ables to force them “to pay for their stay.” In Aus­tria, where social democ­rats have pro­vid­ed the state lead­er in 30 out of the last 37 years, the post-fas­cists of the Aus­tri­an Free­dom Par­ty near­ly won the pres­i­den­cy in 2016. In sum, the suc­cess­es of the far right are an index of social democracy’s lim­its.

The basic reformist premise that under­writes such social demo­c­ra­t­ic mod­els is to nev­er touch cap­i­tal­ist prop­er­ty and prof­itabil­i­ty, but instead to redis­trib­ute the wealth that aris­es from cap­i­tal­ist ”growth” with­in the con­fines of the nation-state. In times and ter­ri­to­ries of marked eco­nom­ic growth, social democ­ra­cy can cre­ate com­par­a­tive­ly equal soci­eties, with­out under­min­ing their class char­ac­ter. But since social democracy’s para­mount tool and sphere of sol­i­dar­i­ty is the nation-state, in times of scarci­ty it always pri­or­i­tizes the rights and priv­i­leges of the cit­i­zens of the nation over those of migrants. And in times of war, social democ­ra­cy has near­ly always thrown its weight behind wars and nation­al­ism, start­ing with World War I. 

Fur­ther­more, since cap­i­tal­ism is char­ac­ter­ized by recur­rent crises, wars, uneven yet com­bined geo­graph­i­cal devel­op­ment pat­terns, and sec­u­lar ten­den­cies towards the replace­ment of labor with labor-sav­ing tech­nolo­gies, times of scarci­ty remain unavoid­able. In times and places of low or neg­a­tive growth rates and decreased employ­ment, there is less to redis­trib­ute and a greater need for redis­tri­b­u­tion. In such cas­es, social democ­ra­cy is left to redis­trib­ute the pain, after cap­i­tal has had it share. Social democ­ra­cy faces a stark choice: Unless it rad­i­cal­izes and chal­lenges cap­i­tal­ist prop­er­ty it must attack its own social base, and dis­place the blame, whether by ref­er­ence to eco­nom­ic neces­si­ty or to scape­goats such as migrants, crim­i­nals, or the unem­ployed.

After try­ing and mis­er­ably fail­ing to solve the cri­sis of the 1970s through old Key­ne­sian mea­sures, social democ­ra­cy grad­u­al­ly adopt­ed neolib­er­al­ism as the only eco­nom­ic the­o­ry fit for restor­ing cap­i­tal­ist prof­its. Thus, Euro­pean Social Democ­rats retrenched wel­fare, and flex­i­bi­lized labour mar­kets in the name of “good eco­nom­ic man­age­ment” and the “neces­si­ty” of restor­ing growth through prof­itabil­i­ty. While this strat­e­gy did con­tra­dict the his­tor­i­cal promis­es of social democ­ra­cy, it was nev­er­the­less ful­ly con­sis­tent with its his­tor­i­cal mis­sion, in which redis­tri­b­u­tion was always premised on cap­i­tal­ist growth. The effects of this strat­e­gy were dev­as­tat­ing for polit­i­cal class com­po­si­tion, and helped demo­bi­lize, depoliti­cize, and dis­or­ga­nize the work­ing class­es. The rea­son this strat­e­gy was rarely met with mas­sive resis­tance was that “asset-price Key­ne­sian­ism” start­ed to kick in and allowed large sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion to live off the increased val­ue of their homes and access to cheap cred­it, not just in coun­tries where the bub­ble burst (the US and Spain are prime exam­ples), but also in places where it per­sists (such as the UK and Den­mark). But when the finan­cial cri­sis swept over Europe in 2008, “good eco­nom­ic man­age­ment” became anoth­er term for the state sav­ing the banks while pass­ing the bill on to its con­stituents. This time, in order to deflect the blame and stop the defec­tion of vot­ers to the far right, many social demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties began scape­goat­ing migrants and the unem­ployed, weak­en­ing the basis of the sol­i­dar­i­ty that makes the social demo­c­ra­t­ic agen­da pos­si­ble in the first place. Euro­pean Social Democ­ra­cy has cre­at­ed the con­di­tions for the emer­gence of the Euro­pean far right in more ways than one.

His­tor­i­cal­ly, social democ­ra­cy has pre­sent­ed itself as an alter­na­tive to com­mu­nism, but in real­i­ty social demo­c­ra­t­ic pol­i­tics were always depen­dent on the com­mu­nist threat.11 Capital’s will­ing­ness to strike com­pro­mis­es with social democ­ra­cy was always inspired by its fear that fail­ing to do so would push the orga­nized work­ing class towards com­mu­nism. It is no coin­ci­dence that the most pro­gres­sive class com­pro­mis­es were made at times of com­mu­nist ascen­dan­cy, as in the 1930s Unit­ed States and post-war Europe, or that the decline of Euro­pean Social Democ­ra­cy accel­er­at­ed with the decline of the inter­nal and exter­nal com­mu­nist threat. Anoth­er more well-known con­di­tion of social democ­ra­cy was the post-war boom, which the pre­spec­tive of the longue-durée shows was an excep­tion in cap­i­tal­ist his­to­ry. Today, the scope for reformism is rad­i­cal­ly dimin­ished as redis­tri­b­u­tion runs up again­st low prof­it rates and Key­ne­sian debt financ­ing has to rely on dereg­u­lat­ed and volatile glob­al finan­cial mar­kets. In today’s low-growth econ­o­my, the reform pro­grams of left-social democ­rats such as Bernie Sanders and Jere­my Cor­byn of the British Labour Par­ty (dis­tinct as they are) would require both a will and a capac­i­ty to break rad­i­cal­ly with cap­i­tal­ist inter­ests, i.e. to risk pro­vok­ing process­es of rup­ture rather than reform. In all like­li­hood, pro­gres­sive social demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers would either have to turn again­st the promis­es of social democ­ra­cy, or over­come social democ­ra­cy itself, by aban­don­ing reformism. 

The main his­tor­i­cal lim­it of social democ­ra­cy is its unwill­ing­ness to chal­lenge cap­i­tal­ist prof­itabil­i­ty. Such a chal­lenge is no mean feat, because it would chal­lenge cap­i­tal­ist repro­duc­tion with­in a ter­ri­to­ry and would spell mis­ery unless accom­pa­nied by the devel­op­ment of non-cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of sur­vival, which in turn would only become sus­tain­able through the devel­op­ment of a non-cap­i­tal­ist mode of repro­duc­tion. To achieve such a rup­ture would require a very high lev­el of coor­di­nat­ed action and transna­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty, a pro­found sub­ver­sion of divid­ing lines around race, gen­der, nation­al­i­ty, and eth­nic­i­ty that social democ­ra­cy – his­tor­i­cal­ly steeped in the fig­ure of the white male work­er – has rarely chal­lenged unless pushed. Again, we can begin to under­stand how the abo­li­tion of the world that made Trump pos­si­ble will require a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of the long present, char­ac­ter­ized not only by cap­i­tal­ism (root­ed in the long past and con­tin­u­al expro­pri­a­tions of the com­mons), but also by the glob­al col­or and gen­der lines, prod­ucts of a long his­to­ry of patri­archy, colo­nial­ism and impe­ri­al­ism.

Given the his­tor­i­cal mar­gin­al­iza­tion of social democ­ra­cy in the Unit­ed States, and the decline of Euro­pean Social Democ­ra­cy, it is no sur­prise that the word “rev­o­lu­tion” was even­tu­al­ly dropped into the hal­cy­on idyll of the Amer­i­can home by Bernie Sanders and his new orga­ni­za­tion. The call for rev­o­lu­tion was hyper­bol­ic, to be sure, yet it may also have been symp­to­matic of the re-emer­gence of an old mole to chal­lenge the cur­rent weak­ness­es in the reformist path. Because the word rev­o­lu­tion can­not help but invoke the spec­tre of com­mu­nism, among those empow­ered or dis­ap­point­ed by this new social demo­c­ra­t­ic cur­rent alike, more and more may begin to ask: what is com­mu­nism, and what is com­mu­nist prac­tice?


  1. Includ­ing a rare instance that actu­al­ly deserves to be called iron­ic: mem­bers of Sean Spicer’s staff leak­ing the sto­ry about how he seized their phones to try and deter­mine who was leak­ing details from their meet­ings… 

  2. The term (le sab­o­tage par la méth­ode de la “bouche ouverte”) was pop­u­lar­ized by Emile Pouget in his foun­da­tion­al 1890s texts on sab­o­tage to des­ig­nate the way that work­ers fight back by releas­ing “behind the sce­nes” details of their places of employ­ment. 

  3. Indeed, Sam Gind­in, Jason Schul­man, and oth­ers have also pushed the ques­tion of par­ty orga­ni­za­tion in the pages of Jacobin

  4. This ques­tion of the blue­print and its lim­its also shows itself with­in the his­to­ry of attempts at a rad­i­cal com­mu­nist archi­tec­ture. In Svet­lana Boym’s descrip­tion of Tatlin’s Tow­er: “instead of spec­u­lat­ing on the tech­ni­cal fea­si­bil­i­ty of its con­struc­tion, a sub­ject that has pre­oc­cu­pied many archi­tects and oth­ers over the years, it is more pro­duc­tive to think about the tower’s actu­al his­to­ry as a mod­el and a project that opened up a new dimen­sion of this inter­me­di­ary and tran­si­tion­al archi­tec­ture, which also may be called an archi­tec­ture of pos­si­bil­i­ty. “Project,” in the case of the tow­er, was not an end in itself, but nei­ther was it an impasse. It was a cru­cible of pos­si­bil­i­ties and inspi­ra­tions, not a util­i­tar­i­an blue­print.” In Archi­tec­ture of the Off-Mod­ern (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2008), 23. 

  5. This also means, for instance, work­ing to dis­man­tle the inco­her­ent and dan­ger­ous ide­als so cen­tral to the lib­er­al nar­ra­tive about Trump’s ascen­den­cy, espe­cial­ly those that sug­gest that only low-income or unem­ployed rural or Rust Belt whites count as “the work­ing class,” while entire­ly remov­ing black and Lat­inx pop­u­la­tions from con­sid­er­a­tion. 

  6. 2016 was a year in pol­i­tics pro­found­ly marked by such mis­pri­sion, if we con­sid­er the reports of how the Clin­ton cam­paign con­tin­u­al­ly ignored all pro­pos­als, let alone signs of loom­ing fail­ure, from their local orga­niz­ers on the ground in favor of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to bungling the elec­tion. See, for instance, Edward-Isaac Dovere’s suc­cinct account in Politi­co

  7. Which is to say that the forms of strug­gle dif­fer­ent kinds of work­ers assume is a nec­es­sar­i­ly his­tor­i­cal ques­tion. It may be that the revival of work­ers’ strug­gles will not take the form of mass union­iza­tion, and we will have to remain open to the pos­si­bil­i­ty that oth­er forms of strug­gle might take the lead, and the work­ing class should not be con­fused with insti­tu­tion­al medi­a­tions of one par­tic­u­lar­ly mod­est sec­tor. Nor, in this light, can the dis­tinc­tion between par­ties and move­ments (union and oth­er­wise) be mapped onto a sim­ple divi­sion between pol­i­tics and civil soci­ety. 

  8. Mike Davis, Pris­on­ers of the Amer­i­can Dream (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1986), 60. 

  9. Davis, Pris­on­ers of the Amer­i­can Dream, 97-9. 

  10. While the the­o­ry of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al had sug­gest­ed a strict divi­sion of labor between the trade union ‘trans­mis­sion belts’ and the polit­i­cal cen­tral­iz­er of the par­ty, this dis­tinc­tion broke down in prac­tice. Matric­u­la­tion from the union to par­ty was often check­ered, but unwaged wom­en often made the par­ty their polit­i­cal home when issues such as the price of food or hous­ing were tak­en up. It’s not that the­se wom­en leapt over the Trade Union “schools for social­ism,” as Kaut­sky called them, but that their par­tic­u­lar encoun­ter with “the inces­sant strug­gle again­st cap­i­tal­ism” just hap­pened to be orga­nized under the chief agent of polit­i­cal com­po­si­tion, rather than an aux­il­iary orga­ni­za­tion. 

  11. In the fol­low­ing sec­tion, we will con­sid­er the rela­tion between the­se terms and that of social­ism, both in terms of work­ing again­st a stag­ist con­cep­tion of rev­o­lu­tion (which involves a pas­sage first into state social­ism and then into com­mu­nism) and of the par­tic­u­lar stakes of such a con­cep­tion in the Amer­i­can con­text. 

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